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Fairy Tales, The MBTI and Other Truths

oatmealIt rained in Minnesota just about every day in June–after raining 28 out of 31 days in May. Granted we’re out of the severe drought that plagued our state the past 9 months, but I started wishing that I had control of a precipitation on/off switch. How hard could it be to keep it all in moderation?

Pondering this while out running in the local park-turned-rain-forest, the old fairy tale about the porridge pot came to mind. Grandpa had a magic porridge pot. He’d say “Cook, little pot, cook” and it’d bubble up perfect oatmeal. “Stop, little pot, stop” were the magic words that put a lid on it, so to speak. When the granddaughter was hungry one morning, she chanted, “Cook, little pot, cook,” and filled her bowl, but then couldn’t remember how to get it to stop. Soon the porridge overflowed, over the table, across the floor, out the door, down the streets…until Grandpa charged through the mess and cried, “Stop, little pot, stop!”

Sound familiar? Versions of this tale exist in folklore around the world. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, perhaps best remembered with all of the brooms chasing Mickey Mouse. In one country, rice overflows. In every case, humans think they know enough to take control of something–and learn quickly that they haven’t a clue. These may be folk and fairy tales, but they name a truth about human nature.

So does Jungian psychological type theory, or personality type, popularized by the MBTI (r). The theory describes a universal truth, recognized around the world for centuries: Yes, each person is unique, but there are certain patterns in how we approach life. The Greeks described these as temperaments. Isabel Myers and her mother Katherine Briggs recognized these patterns in the people around them, and then embraced how Jung described the same patterns in Psychological Types.

Why am I writing this? Because, just like some people fail to understand that fairy and folk tales contain truth, people can be blind to the truth in type theory. They dismiss the rich framework for understanding differences because they mistakenly think that tools such as the MBTI are supposed to perfectly pinpoint a person’s type. They aren’t–they’re self-reporting instruments that, with interpretation by qualified providers, can help people discover their types. Here’s great information on what the MBTI is designed to do. After all, would you want to be told who you are? Myers and Briggs didn’t think so!!

So here are a few truths about type, truths that transcend instrumentation:

If you think type theory and the MBTI are like fairy tales, I’d agree–they describe solid truths about human nature and provide clues as to how to make the most of who we are. Yes, you’re unique, but looking for patterns helps us make more constructive use of the differences we see every day in those around us!

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Jane Kise is a consultant and executive coach. The founder of Differentiated Coaching Associates and author of over 20 books, she works with schools and businesses worldwide to help create environments where everyone can flourish.

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